Purdue, Duke Energy Exploring Nuclear

Purdue, Duke Energy Exploring Nuclear

Purdue University and Duke Energy announced they plan to jointly explore the feasibility of using advanced nuclear energy to meet the campus community’s long-term energy needs.

With interest rising worldwide in new technologies that are reliable and carbon-free, Purdue and Duke Energy intend to study power produced through Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), a move that may be unprecedented for a college campus and a potential fit for Purdue’s energy needs.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, SMRs are among the most promising emerging technologies in nuclear power. Significantly smaller than traditional nuclear power plants, an SMR could meet current and future needs for Purdue’s West Lafayette campus as well as provide excess power to the state’s electric grid.

Home to one of the nation’s top nuclear engineering programs and a national leader in energy innovation that is scalable and sustainable, Purdue and its experts are uniquely qualified to evaluate this “giant leap” toward a carbon-free energy future.

“No other option holds as much potential to provide reliable, adequate electric power with zero carbon emissions,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels. “Innovation and new ideas are at the core of what we do at Purdue, and that includes searching for ways to minimize the use of fossil fuels while still providing carbon-free, reliable, and affordable energy. We see enough promise in these new technologies to undertake an exploration of their practicality, and few places are better positioned to do it.”

Duke Energy Indiana President Stan Pinegar said, “Duke Energy is leading the industry’s biggest clean energy transformation nationwide, and exploring technologies such as this is important work to help get us there. Nuclear provides reliable energy and can complement other carbon-free energy sources, such as solar and wind. As the largest regulated nuclear plant operator in the nation, we have more than 50 years of experience with safe, reliable operations. We can share that experience with one of America’s premiere engineering schools to see what this technology could do for its campus as well as the state.”

Purdue is currently powered through the Wade Utility Plant, which is a combined heat and power system that uses steam to provide heat, electricity and chilled water that is used to cool facilities. A new Duke Energy plant on campus also provides thermal energy in the form of steam to Purdue, while also supplying Duke Energy’s Indiana customers with electricity. Approximately 50% of campus electricity is purchased from Duke Energy.

Michael B. Cline, Purdue senior vice president for administrative operations, said, “This effort provides a timely opportunity for Purdue to work with our partners to explore whether nuclear energy can be a practical and affordable option to meet our long-term needs.”

Advanced nuclear technology is still under development, and nationally Duke Energy is involved with industry groups, reactor technology companies, and leading research universities such as Purdue that are exploring deployment of this advanced nuclear technology.

SMRs are revolutionary in part because of their modular nature. They can be prefabricated off site, thereby saving money and time in construction. And Purdue is at the forefront of this technology by pioneering, developing and verifying the steel-plate composite construction used in SMRs at the on-campus Bowen Laboratory through the Center for Structural Engineering and Nuclear Power Plants, which is led by Amit Varma, Purdue’s Karl H. Kettelhut professor of Civil Engineering and director of the Bowen Laboratory of Large-Scale CE Research.

“Steel-plate composite technology is fundamental to successfully deploying SMRs within budget and on schedule,” Varma said. “We have the world’s pre-eminent team and facilities to conduct the testing, analysis, design, and construction demonstration to actualize the potential of this technology.

Purdue engineering leaders and experts involved will include Mung Chiang, Seungjin Kim, Amit Varma and Arden Bement. Chiang is the executive vice president of Purdue University for strategic initiatives and the John A. Edwardson Dean of Purdue’s College of Engineering. Kim is the Capt. James McCarthy, Jr. and Cheryl E. McCarthy Head of the School of Nuclear Engineering at Purdue University. Bement achieved international recognition as director of the National Science Foundation and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He has a long and distinguished career with Purdue, having served as the Basil S. Turner Distinguished Professor of Electroceramics, the David A. Ross Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering, the chief global affairs officer, and the inaugural director of the Global Policy Research Institute.

The exploration, including a series of meetings and joint studies, will begin in the coming weeks. Purdue’s sustainability master plan can be found here.

Purdue’s graduate nuclear engineering program is ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Nuclear engineering students are able to learn from and conduct research using PUR-1, the first and only nuclear reactor in the state, and the first and only U.S. NRC facility to be licensed for a fully digital instrument and control system. University reactors used for teaching and research are all far too small to power a campus community.

Duke Energy operates the largest regulated nuclear fleet in the nation, with 11 nuclear units at six plant sites in North Carolina and South Carolina. These plants generate nearly 11,000 megawatts of reliable, carbon-free electricity, about half of the electricity needed for its Carolinas customers, with production costs among the lowest in the nation. In 2021, the nuclear fleet matched its record capacity factor (a measure of reliability) of 95.7% and avoided the release of more than 50.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.

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